Elsa’s Tips on How to Learn French

Learning or relearning a language as an adult can be difficult, but it can be done. Find tools that work for you, practice practice practice, and NEVER give up.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don't forget the most important: commitment.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don’t forget the most important: commitment.

Bonjour ! Comment ça va? (Hello! How are you?) I have been away from blogging about Paris for too long. I have many reasons for this — excuses, really — but one reason is that I have been focusing on learning French. Some day, I hope to move to France, whether it is to retire or to work, or both. Although more French people than ever are learning English, it is important to me to learn their language, for it is the only way to truly immerse myself in the French culture. And what better way for me to show how much I love France than to learn French?

I am the first to acknowledge that different people learn differently. That said, here are my tips on how to learn French.

1. Focus on learning French like you learned English, learning sounds (phonics), words, and putting together short sentences. Yes, this is how a child learns their first language: Since this method works for them, it will work for you. Look for children’s books on teaching French (see below). No need to be embarrassed: no one will know.

2. Watch “Learn French With Alexa” Videos. Click here: Overview of Learn French With Alexa Lessons 1-55.  Many people offer free French lessons on YouTube. Even though I took a year of French many years ago, I wanted to start from the very beginning, as I’ve stated above. Most lessons have you learning phrases without learning sounds or grammar. I found what I was looking for in Alexa, who teaches French from the ground up. After her first lesson on greetings, she teaches sounds, words, small sentences…everything I was looking for in a French teacher. She is also very funny: an added bonus. I highly recommend using ear buds to listen to language videos. You can miss the nuances of pronunciation without them.I watch her videos a minimum of 3 times: once as introduction, then to take notes, and a third time to go over the notes. I often also write words and phrases on flash cards to let the words sink in and become part of my way of thinking. I have watched at least one verb video 50 times to make sure I grasp it; after all, reciting what I’ve learned while watching a video is one thing — to be able to call upon it in the moment of conversation is something else. Repetition is key! I can still hear Miss Dawson, my first English teacher, saying,”Attention ! Écoutez, répétez après moi!” (Attention! Listen, repeat after me!) And we repeated and repeated and repeated…

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

3. Use French Vocabulary Flash Cards. This is just another way for me to build my French vocabulary. I have copied the flash card words onto my own flash cards to carry with me during my commutes (so as not to ruin the originals). The only problem with the flash cards is that they don’t give you the pronunciation. Which brings me to #4…

4. Use the French to English, English to French tool on Google. I love it! Again, use your ear buds to hear the nuances of pronunciation. Click here: Translate French to English Google link.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children's books in French to help learn French grammar.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children’s books in French to help learn French grammar.

5. Look for books aimed at children learning French, such as French for Middle/High School by Carson Dellosa Education. The book basically reiterates Alexa’s videos. But that’s just the point. There’s no such thing as redundancy in language learning: You have to go over lessons over and over and over again until you think in French.

6. Watch movies with more child characters than adults in French and in English with French subtitles, such as the Harry Potter series. Children, even in middle school and high school, are still developing their vocabulary and sentence structure, so they express their thoughts with less complexity than adults. This lower language complexity, when translated into another language, is perfectly suited for an adult to learn the new language. Also, since children tend to be less sophisticated speakers, they don’t generally talk so fast that you can’t hear individual words.

7. Listen to French music. Many people have told me to watch French news and movies to learn French. While I frequently see French movies at the French Embassy in DC (with English subtitles, thank heavens), the characters speak much too fast for me to hear individual words. French music is better for me at this stage of my learning French: it’s much easier to hear individual words, and I’m becoming familiar with French artists while I’m at it. I listen to the RJM French Music app: I  love Avance by Garou, De L’amour le mieux by Natasha St. Pierre, and Les Matins D’hiver by Gerard Lenorman, just to name a few.

8. Join a French group. Chances are, there are groups of native English speakers in your area who want to practice their French. A friend introduced me to one that meets in DC once a week: they meet in a church and go out to dinner together. I don’t feel I am quite ready for it, but I will attend their meetings when I am ready.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

9. Surround yourself with French things. To learn a language, you have to learn to think in that language. I can think of no better way than to surround yourself with French things, such as a comforter with French words and pictures, French tea towels, a French clock, a Page-A-Day calendar of French locales, even a print from a French master painter, such as Monet or Renoir. These things help to transport you to France — at least in your mind, anyway — so you can think in French.  I am the first to admit that learning a language as an adult can be tough for a variety of reasons, especially because of the time it takes. All I can say is: Don’t give up. View any progress as real progress. Use any down time you can to practice or recite what you know. While I cook, I try to name all the kitchen items I use. While vacuuming, I recite all the parts of the room I can. I’ll review a small stack of flash cards while I’m waiting for my dinner to cook. If ever I start to feel hindered in my lessons, I think about how much I want to speak French when I travel to Paris the next time. It keeps me going. Find your own motivation to learn French and keep it in front of you. It will help you when you feel like quitting. It certainly has helped me.

Au revoir !





Learning French image by CanStockPhoto. French Vocabulary Flash Cards from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. French Workbook from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. Vintage French poster from Pinterest, CCBY 2.0.




Happy Valentine’s Day!

Vancouver Cappuccino by Gord McKenna_FlickrToday I am sharing a recipe for French Hot Chocolate based on Cafe Angelina’s recipe, and a poem about love. We might live in a crazy, mixed-up world, where little makes sense, but that is no reason to forget simple pleasures in life, like love and good hot chocolate. In fact, I’d say it’s all the more reason to embrace these things. Take time out to read this short but lovely poem about love, which I’ve illustrated with scenes in Paris. Then enjoy the hot chocolate with the one you love.




Paris in rain by Milena MihaylovaCome watch the rain with me,



Couple walking in rain in Paris by four12_Flickr_2480754339_894bc0cf50_zAnd as it pours over our shoulders,







Under the rain by Vincent Anderlucci_Flickr_18126238743_f2e85c833d_zAnd beats atop our heads,






Paris dancing by Quentin ChernierLet it be said,




Montmartre after rain_3680661782_827f9ea4ee_z



That the rain confirmed our love.

by Samara Kae Gibbs





French Hot Chocolate

Yield: 2 large, intense cups of hot chocolate or 4 more reasonably-sized cups

Prep Time: 3 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 8 minutes


    • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but delicious. Will intensify chocolate flavor)
    • Giant bowl of whipped cream, for serving


In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, whisk together the whole milk, heavy cream, powdered sugar, and espresso powder until small bubbles appear around edges. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir the chopped chocolate until melted, returning the sauce to low heat if needed for the chocolate to melt completely. Serve warm, topped with lots of whipped cream.

Choose the best quality chocolate you can, such as Guittard, Ghiradelli, or Godiva, as the flavor carries the drink.

 — from lawstudentswife.com

Salut !



Bonne Annee ! Happy New Year!

Fireworks on Eiffel Tower by Yann Caradec_Flickr_7574806098_6ca78260e3_zHappy New Year! I hope January 1, 2017 finds you well and ready for a new year.

French people today will typically get together with only close friends and family. Having consumed crepes and Galette des Rois (“the Cake of Kings”) yesterday, tonight they will have a special dinner and might attend a ball, une soirée dansante (“a dancing night”).

Make a new year’s resolution to be more like the French, and focus on friends, family, eating well and enjoying life. Life expectancy in France as of 2012 is 82.57 years; in the U.S., it is 78.74 years. There is likely a myriad of reasons for this difference, and some might point to the French having socialized health care. But my time spent in France tells me there are probably other reasons for this difference. To begin with, French people eat far more fresh food than Americans, and take their time eating it. This is one reason why they eat less: the slower you eat, the less you consume. Having wine with dinner also helps, since it helps to satisfy the palate, also allowing you to eat less.

Wine, specifically red wine, has other health benefits as well: it releases flavonoids, which helps the brain to be more plastic, or in other words, makes the brain more capable of forming new memories and recover from injury. Sounds like a prescription for preventing Alzheimer’s Disease, doesn’t it? Dark chocolate, widely consumed in France, also provides this health benefit. Think quality, not quantity, should you decide to incorporate red wine and dark chocolate in your diet for health benefits. More is not necessarily better.

I will continue to write about how to incorporate the French way of life into your own life, as well as write about travelling to Paris. I am signing off for today to spend time with friends.

Those work emails can wait. Have a glass of wine. Eat some dark chocolate. Spend time with those you love today. Be more French.


Salut !


Fireworks on the Eiffel Tower by Yann Caradec, Flickr, CCBY 2.0.

Experience Christmas and New Year’s in Paris!

Galeries Lafayette by Brett_FlickrIf ever there was a time of year to visit Paris for just a few days, Christmas time is it.

Source: Christmas in Paris – New Year in Paris – Paris Tourist Office

Looking for a new tradition? Go to Paris for Christmas or to ring in the new year! The city dressed up for the holidays will take your breath away — if you go to Paris during Christmas time, you might think the city got their nickname “The City of Light” from this time of year. (Actually, it was probably because they were the first European city to use gas lamps outside.) The entire city is bathed in Christmas lights, from storefronts and windows to trees and landscapes. As always, there is plenty to do, including visiting Christmas markets and seasonal ice rinks.

I have given details below of several of my favorite things to do in Paris this time of year. But first, here are 12 pictures of holidays past to see for yourself: Paris during the holidays is a must-do. Even if it’s just once in your lifetime.

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Here are 3 of my favorite activities to do in Paris during the holidays:

"Reconnect" with loved ones on the ice; just be sure to wear gloves.

“Reconnect” with loved ones on the ice; just be sure to wear gloves.

1. Go ice skating at one of the temporary ice skating rinks, such as: inside the Grand Palais (avenue Winston Churchill, from 14 December 2016 – 2 January 2017), or outside on the Eiffel Tower (5 avenue Anatole, from 15 December 2016 – 19 February 2017). Ice skating isn’t just for kids: it can be a good way to “reconnect” with the one you love, especially if one or both of you have a hard time staying upright on the ice. Doesn’t that sound like fun for the whole family? Just be sure to wear gloves as protection from the cold and others’ skates in case you fall. Or is that when you fall?

Christmas markets are a great place to eat and people-watch.

Christmas markets are a great place to eat and people-watch.

2. Walk and admire, eat, drink, and buy gifts at Christmas markets. There are Christmas markets all over Paris, but probably the largest is on the Champs-Elysees. The highlights of my visits to this market in 2014 were talking to a Moscovite about his black lacquer boxes he had for sale and eating a crepe with Grand Marnier. (Okay, I might have had two.) I also got a serving of German-made goulash that was so large I had leftovers for 2 more meals. Since you’re in France, you can also purchase hot and cold liquor drinks to warm your bones.


Celebrating New Year's on the Champs-Elysees? Hope you like crowds!

Celebrating New Year’s on the Champs-Elysees? Hope you like crowds!

3. Ring in the new year on the Champs-Elysees (31 December 2016). Could there be anything more romantic than celebrating New Year’s Eve with the one(s) you love under the stars in Paris? I doubt it.


Salut !




 Fouquet’s Paris and Galeries Lafayette by Elsa L. Fridl. All other images from Flickr, CCBY 2.0. Featured image, Galeries Lafayette by Brett. The Eiffel Tower by C. A Paris Street by Dirk Haun. Au Printemps by Brett. Vendome Place by PhOtOnQuAnTIQuE. Notre Dame by Linus Mak. A Christmas Decoration by Jean-Yves Romanetti. The Champs-Elysees by Daxis. A Tree with Lights (“Christmas in Paris”) by John Stanforth. Decorations at Notre Dame (“Notre Dame dans la Boule”) by Luca Vanzella. Paris Opera House by Chris Chabot. Ice Skating on the Eiffel Tower by C. Christmas Market by Linus Mak. Celebrating New Year’s by Falcon Photography.


Paris Trip Day 28

Moulin Rouge, where Henri Toulouse-Latrec found inspiration for his art.

Moulin Rouge, where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec found inspiration for his art.

Monday. My last day in Paris. I can’t believe a month has gone by already. I’m trying to savor every moment today. I’m pretty organized – I’ve reorganized my stuff enough times, I should be – so I went to buy that cute mug I saw in a shop nearby (with its own spoon!) and bought a few other small souvenirs. A guy who has a kiosk selling souvenirs at Blanche Metro had gone to his home country and come back, so I got to say good-bye to him. He asked me when I would be returning: I told him I didn’t know, but that my heart will always be here. He smiled in recognition.

I went to Champs-Elysees one last time, and took in the ambiance as much as I could. I don’t want to leave. I belong here. I wandered around taking pictures until I knew I couldn’t put it off any more. I walked to the Champs-Elysees Metro and took it for the last time to Blanche Metro. After I got off, I took some pictures of Moulin Rouge and met some travelers: one of them asked me if I wanted my picture taken. Sure! Then I walked up the Montmartre hill to Le Basilic and had dinner there again – another perfect French meal — and took a few pictures, saying my good-byes. Then I went back to Plug-Inn Hostel. I am thankful for my time here. I’ve made a lot of connections with people, some of whom I’ve forgotten to write about in my journal: my long-term memory is so much better than my short-term, that sometimes I remember things better 6 months to a year later than I did right after an experience. I still have more to say about my trip. Well, that’s something. Maybe I can even blog about it.

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Salut !


Images of Paris metro train and metro doors by Can Stock Photo. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl.

Paris Trip Day 27

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The 284 steps inside the Arc de Triomphe are probably not for the faint of heart, but there are places to stand aside and rest.

The 284 steps inside the Arc de Triomphe are probably not for the faint of heart, but there are places to stand aside and rest.

Sunday. A lot of attractions are free today. Unfortunately, it’s cold and rainy…the type of cold that seeps into your bones. I took the metro to Champs-Elysees, mostly to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. I took pictures all around it and while I was on the top level. I happened to get there just before a crowd came (which I saw on my way out). The lift was broken, so I had to walk up a lot of stairs in a very winding staircase – I thought I heard someone say there are 222 steps to get to the top – but hostel staff told me there are 284. While the width of the staircase was small, there were occasional landings where you can step aside and rest while allowing others to pass; as someone who studied design, I found that design detail impressive. Sometimes it has seemed to me that designers and architects forget much-needed details, like having spaces for people to catch their breath on staircases while not holding up people behind them. There were exhibits in the Arc de Triomphe on military uniforms and aspects of the monument’s design. There was also a shop for souvenirs. I people-watched for a bit: I love seeing the joy on people’s faces as they investigate Parisian sights.

After I took plenty of pictures (and had a couple taken of me), I was so cold I had to leave. I didn’t want to. I went to the McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysees to use the restroom, and took some more pictures until my fingers were too frozen to handle the camera. It might have been the coldest day of the trip. Funny enough, I was feeling so frozen, I decided to take a couple of pictures of Queen Elsa.

I headed back to the hostel and grabbed a Grand Marnier crepe on my way. It was hard to eat with frozen fingers, but I managed. (!)


Queen Elsa on the Champs-Elysees. It was so cold, I'm sure she felt right at home.

Queen Elsa on the Champs-Elysees. It was so cold when I was there, I’m sure she felt right at home.

Salut !











Images of Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde and McDonald’s by Can Stock Photo. Image of Arc de Triomphe staircase by Wally Gobetz, Flickr, CCBY 2.0. All other images by Elsa L. Fridl.

Information on the Arc de Triomphe taken from Wikipedia article, “Arc de Triomphe,” retrieved July 26, 2015.


Paris Trip Day 26

I ached all over from my quick trip to London, but the pain was worth it.

I ached all over from my quick trip to London, but the pain was worth it.

Saturday. Since I got back to Plug-Inn Hostel very early (around 7:00 A.M.) from London, I went to bed after breakfast. I had to stay in bed most of the day: my feet were killing me, my back and neck were sore from being scrunched up in the coach (bus), and I simply felt achy all over. I completed the picture by walking around the hostel (what little I did) with wild hair again. I talked with staff and others about my experiences in London and drank oodles of cappuccino from the machine. Hostel staff told me the weather in Paris changed for the worse just after I left.

I also finished reading Elvis: My Best Man, and thought about what I want to do for the rest of my time here, especially tomorrow, since many attractions are free (it’s the first Sunday of the month). It’s been cold and rainy, and it looks like more of the same tomorrow.

An image of how my heart feels to be in Paris.

An image of how my heart feels to be in Paris.

Still, a bad weather day in Paris beats a good weather day anywhere else, hands down. It might be raining outside, but in my heart there’s sunshine: that’s what Paris does for me.


Salut !




Images by Can Stock Photo.